I've never been one for romanticizing my runs. I've liked running since I was on the cross country team in high school, and I've done it as exercise ever since, at times much more frequently than others, including running two 20K road races and one true half-marathon.
But I've never, like, rhapsodized about how good a long run makes me feel, or talked at length about the beauty of a route I designed, like J does. He really enjoys the whole ordeal, speaking poetically about the part where he got to the industrial park and was pretty tired but then found new energy by the time he reached the shoreline! And then when he gets home he makes himself a chocolate milk for recovery and stretches out on the front steps for awhile. Then he remembers some new details and I can't help myself. "Really?" I ask. "Are we talking about your run again?"
I'm more of a utilitarian runner. I like doing it because it's a form of exercise that can begin as soon as I step out my front door, without having to drive to a gym or schedule a class. I can listen to loud music that I'm embarrased to admit I like, and escape for awhile.
I like it, I do, but mostly because it gets the job done, providing physical and mental well being in an efficient manner. I often don't know where I'm headed when I go out for a run, and if I need to run a certain number of miles, might simply run half of them in one direction, then make my way back home.
This summer, though, while training for the New Haven Road Race - the annual Labor Day 20K that I've now done twice - I decided that for the ten-mile run scheduled as part of my training plan towards the end of August, I'd run the entire circumference of Southport Island, which is the island in Maine - just a few steps off the mainland, really - where my parents spend summers and we go for frequent visits.
I'd run it once before a few summers ago, this perfect, if hilly, ten-mile loop, an alternating pattern of woodsy stretches followed by the picturesque New England inlets: a sailboat; a rocky outcrop; hearty Northerners taking a morning zip in the frigid Atlantic. It's somewhat challenging geographically, with a few steep uphills and uneven terrain, and the scenery's gorgeous. I'd been running stretches of Southport's one, two-lane road the entire summer, but running the whole thing, from point A and all the way around til you reach the place you started, that's different. It's a run you can talk about. Even me.
And once I got going on this summer's Southport run - I can't believe I'm even writing this sentence - it was magic. Some of my prior runs which involved doing long distance on particularly muggy summer days were rough going towards the end; I had to really talk myself into logging those last couple miles.
But this one - maybe it's because I turned off my Nike running app, knowing the distance was exactly what I needed it to be; or maybe it was the fact that I didn't listen to music for almost the entire run, instead deciding to enjoy the opportunity for quiet thinking, something I almost never associate with exercise; or maybe it was simply because I ate exactly the right things before heading out and drank exactly the right amount of water during - whatever the case, I felt great.
And when I finished, sweaty and achey but exhilirated, I wanted to tell somebody about it. So I texted J, "Ran Southport!" expecting him to write back clamoring for details, which he didn't do because he was on a trip with friends, brewery-hopping in Colorado, and also, kinda like with dreams, nobody wants to go over the details of your run except you.
That might be for the best, though. In this life with our three young children, lone experiences are hard to come by. I can't even go to the bathroom without someone knocking on the door to tell me something VERY IMPORTANT and I'm not one of those people who relishes the solitude of night, after everyone has gone to sleep. Nighttime is for sleeping, guys.
Running, though. A space reserved for my own thoughts if I want it. My loud music if I'm ready to take on the world, but the rhythmic sound of my feet hitting pavement an option if I'm going for that peculiar form of meditation only runners know. I used to silently make fun of people when they'd talk about that idea, but making my way around Southport this summer, I truly got it; a summer goal turned into an experience I won't forget, but even better, an experience I'll draw on next time I'm feeling overwhelmed, or tired, or I need some time to think. Just outside my front door.